IN PICTURES: Meet the next generation of naturalists preserving Ham Lands

By Oliver Monk

24th Mar 2024 | Local Features

Grey Court students are helping local environmentalist group Friends of Ham Lands (Photo: Oliver Monk)
Grey Court students are helping local environmentalist group Friends of Ham Lands (Photo: Oliver Monk)

A number of students from Grey Court Sixth Form are getting out of the classroom and into nature in a bid to help preserve their local nature reserve Ham Lands.

Grey Court sixth-formers Daria (left) and Max (right) with teacher Danielle Mannion (centre) (Photo: Oliver Monk)

The group works alongside volunteers from Friends of Ham Lands to help maintain the area every Wednesday afternoon, supervised by psychology teacher Danielle Mannion.

The scheme is the work of social enterprise Let's Go Outside and Learn (LGOL), an organisation looking to connect local communities with the nature out on their doorstep.

Gaby Docker, a conservationist from CIC Let's Go Out and Learn (Photo: Oliver Monk)

However conservationist Gaby Docker from LGOL describes their work far more succinctly: "We get people out in nature who wouldn't otherwise."

"We work really close with [Richmond Council's] Parks Team," continues Gaby: "It's really good to have such a friendly relationship [...] not all groups have that".

The Friends of Ham Lands group receive help from a local bird expert who built the kesterel box in this ash tree (Photo: Oliver Monk)

Other than the occasional report with Richmond Council who own the site, Friends of Ham Lands and LGOL have a lot of freedom when it comes to directing their efforts.

During the visit, students were busy at work clearing out a thick patch of woodland with handsaws.

(From left to right) Imam, Rhys, and Brandon work on clearing dense sections of woodland (Photo: Oliver Monk)

Ham Lands has been significantly impacted by climate change according to volunteer Sharon Mehta.

The area being cleared out is the result of elm and cherry trees reacting to the stress of inconsistent rainfall.

Known as suckering, the trees look to spread shoots as fast as possible, damaging the rare poor-nutrient grasslands around them.

Sharon Mehta inspects signs of tree suckering (Photo: Oliver Monk)

Ms. Mehta estimates the students have cleared around 12 metres of the dense undergrowth over the past few weeks.

"The bramble challenge is a total nightmare too," she adds, explaining how increased CO2 levels have encouraged their growth.

Diane Bridson clearing a thick bramble near a popular footpath (Photo: Oliver Monk)

Nearby is Diane Bridson, a fellow volunteer of over four years and ex-botanist from Kew Gardens who is determinedly clearing out a patch of bramble intertwined with a fallen willow tree.

The brambles are encroaching on a nearby path, with their snare-like coiled roots causing trip hazards for passers-by.

The students' cuttings are used to provide habitats for insects (Photo: Oliver Monk)

Just on the other side of the brambles is Grey Court student Max O'Connel, dragging a branch twice his side to a makeshift bug hotel the group has made from their cuttings, fashioned in big rings in the forest over months.

Max O'Connel poses with his biggest branch of the day (Photo: Oliver Monk)

Ms. Mehta reflects on the sense of achievement the students get from the hands-on work.

"It's an alternative to more artificial targets," she says.

Gaby Docker (left) clears more of the forest while (from left to right) Max O'Connel, Sharon Mehta and Danielle Mannion discuss further plans (Photo: Oliver Monk)

Nub News will continue to follow the work of various volunteers across Ham Lands.


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